Plot: Smart, sensitive, and deep, Nic Sheff, always made his father so proud. Growing up in northern California, they led what seemed like an ideal life, with the exception of the father’s divorce from Nic’s mom and their shared custody, which shuttled Nic to and fro from the northern California area to Los Angeles and back. Aside from that, all seemed normal – David remarried a wonderful woman and they had two kids Nic adored. Then, Nic starts disappearing. The father tracks him in one pivotal scene to find his son in San Francisco, looking like a skeleton, a withered version of his former self. He had become addicted to crystal meth and the addiction gloms on to him and doesn’t let go. Nic goes into rehab and falls, goes back into rehab and falls again. The cycle repeats, with Nic often vanishing and leaving his father wondering if he’s alive or dead. David goes on the journey of recovery with him, doing research about drug addiction, talking to addiction specialists, and, at times, trying to protect his young children from his beloved son’s arrests, thievery, and overall dissolution. When Nic disappears again after a particularly long period of being clean, David wonders if his son will ever re-emerge.
Critical Evaluation: This is a sharp, evocative, and compelling look at drug addiction and especially how addiction impacts families. Sheff is looking for answers – What went wrong? Did I do this? Can we ever escape this cycle of rehab and falling? The way the father tells the story, you see Nic grow up – a smart, vivacious kid with a great deal of personal style and a charmingly quirky mind. Going back to the beginning, Sheff makes the reader feel the same parental feelings that he must have, and so, even though we know what will eventually happen, that Nic will become an addict, it is still piercing when it happens. Sheff’s tone is concerned, reasoned, and, occasionally, desperate. He mixes thoughtful meditations with scenes that have a sharp impact. He is half concerned parent and half curious journalist, and the result is a powerful exploration of what happens when a father is forced to watch his son dangle on the precipice between life and death.
Reader’s Annotation: David Sheff’s son seemed to be perfect – smart, funny, with a winning personal style – so how did he end up on the street, shaking, afraid, skeletal, and addicted?
Author bio: Originally from Boston, MA, David Sheff moved to northern California to go to Berkeley. He wrote articles for New West magazine and others, and then began to write books (the topics have ranged from John Lennon and Yoko Ono to video games).
His son Nic was born during his first marriage, and then he had two more children with his second wife, an artist and illustrator. In 2005, the New York Times Magazine published “My Addicted Son,” an award-winning article chronicling his son’s descent into drug addiction. The article was expanded to become Beautiful Boy, which garnered many positive reviews.
Curriculum Ties: Health, Psychology, English.
Booktalking Ideas: Talk about Nic’s fall and the family’s attempts to pull him out.
Read the section that describes the moment when David realizes that something terrible has happened, when Nic needs to be rescued on the street.
Reading Level/Interest Age: 16 +
Challenge Issues: Drug addiction, discussion of casual drug use.
This is a book about an addict, so there could be challenges to it. Focus on the writer’s credentials, his past books, his background as a top journalist. Keep a list of positive reviews on file. Know the content and that this is hardly a book that glorifies drug use.
Why Included: It is a gripping meditation on drug abuse, a topic of interest and concern to most older teenagers.